Lana Del Rey is all about flower crowns, soft, summertime sadness, a meteoric rise, and a well-respected catalog. These things have solidified Lana Del Rey as an important figure in American pop culture. Arguably, she was the face of the 2010s alternative movement. In fact, her artistry has paved the way for superstars like Billie Eilish and Halsey, while also paying homage to alternative icons like Hole, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and Sublime. Presently, she shows no signs of slowing down.
With a 9.4 Pitchfork rating, many consider her 2019 album, Norman F*cking Rockwell, to be her magnum opus. However, if her latest single, “A&W”, is any indicator, her best work is just getting started.
What’s the Big Deal with Lana Del Rey?
While Lana Del Rey’s work has always served as an examination of womanhood, her work has evolved from soft seduction to bold social commentary. This shift began with 2017’s Lust for Life but fully culminated on 2021’s Blue Bannisters. Shifting gears from commentary on the COVID-19 pandemic, her newest single, “A&W” serves as a way to connect her fixation on classic Americana to misogyny and violence against women in American media.
It’s All About Soda
In addition to American flags and Skid Row, Del Rey uses soda throughout her discography to evoke images of years past, from drive-ins and purity, to grittiness and sex. “A&W” ties this imagery together brilliantly, suggesting that this classic cola is just as integral to American culture as an “American Wh*re.”
The Media and The Self
Del Rey expresses a profound level of self-awareness in “A&W.” Her soft, sultry vocals float over a dark, driving guitar and piano. The first verse addresses the loss of innocence. Correspondingly, she hints at her apathy towards her image in the media. The song goes on to explore the dangers of the caricature she made for herself. Though she used her music to cope with abuse, she seems to regret this. Further, Del Rey suggests that she’s made herself into an imperfect, untrustworthy victim in the media.
In the third verse, she says “I mean, look at my hair/look at the length of it and the shape of my body/if I told you I was raped/do you really think that anybody would say I didn’t ask for it?” This line is in stark contrast to her typical glamorous songwriting approach. Previously, she’d convey this with grand imagery. Here, she states it outright. It is reminiscent of Hole’s “Asking For It” and “Doll Parts.” There is a familiar but grittier edge to Del Rey in this song, once again brilliantly melding the past with the present.
Back to the 1950s…And also the 2010s
The latter half of the song brings Lana Del Rey back to her rise to fame. Here. she swaps the guitar for a hip-hop inspired take on Little Anthony and The Imperial’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop.” This portion of the song is a hit with Del Rey’s earliest fans. It is a reminder of what she does best: modernizing the classics.
Furthermore, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop” has a long standing history of sampling in hip-hop. She uses it as a sample to call back to her roots. Interestingly, though, she uses to add deeper meaning to the song. Del Rey twists the original song’s fascination with an exotic woman to fit the narrative of “A&W.” On the whole, she uses it to say that the fascination with purity leads to corruption.
In fact, “Shimmy, shimmy ko ko bop/Shimmy, shimmy ride…/Love me if you love or not…/Jimmy only love me when you wanna get high” is a brilliant example of this twist. She takes the simplicity of the original song, and the child-like innocence of “love me or love me not,” and turns it into something extremely sultry, adult, and dangerous.
Do I Recommend It?
If you are a fan of Lana Del Rey, this song perfectly represents all of her eras. The first half of the song is reminiscent of Norman F*cking Rockwell and Blue Bannisters. The second half is a mature take on the production that launched her into the spotlight. “A&W” is an interesting examination of American culture and its fascination with seductive women, and how often this fascination brews violent misogyny.
Her soft vocals contrast her hard hitting lyricism. In a song that could have been incredibly safe, Del Rey chose to be bold. “A&W” stands to be Lana Del Rey’s best work to date. I am thrilled to see what she does with the rest of her forthcoming album, Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd?
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